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English Sounds and Spelling (#6), by Dennis Oliver

 

English Sounds and Spelling #6:

 

The English / e / sound (the vowel sound in bet or let) is
similar to the English / ey / sound (the vowel sound in bait
or late), but for / e /, the position of the tongue is slightly
lower and more relaxed. The / e / sound is also shorter than
the / ey / sound and is a single sound (the / ey / sound is
really a combination of two sounds).

The most common spelling for the vowel / e / is e + one
or more consonants:

bed, belt, bend, bench, best, bet, better, beverage, bled, bred;
check, chest;
deck, dell, den, depth, desk;
edge, edible, egg, elm, else, end, establish;
fed, fell, feminine, fender, flesh, fresh;
gelatin, gem, gender, gesture, get;
hefty, hem, hen;
jelly, jet;
led, leg, less, let, level;
men, mess, met;
neck, nest, net, next;
peg, pen, pep, pest, pet, press;
rebel, red, regular, rent, rest, retch;
sell, send, sent, September, set, settle, several, sexy;
tell, ten, tend, tent, test, text;
vegetable, vent, vest, veteran, vex;
wed, well, went, wept, west, wet;
yell, yes, yet

In a number of common words, however, / e / is also spelled ea:

bread, breath, dead, death, dread, head, health, instead,
lead (Pb), read (past), spread, stealth, thread, tread, wealth

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Special Notes:

1.  

The combinations -ead and -eath are often
pronounced with / e /, but there are exceptions:

ea = / iy /:
bead, knead, lead (V), read (present);
heath, wreath

     
2.   The past tense said (for say) and the common
word sweat are both pronounced with / e /,
not / iy /.
     
3.   The common words there, their, and heir also
have the vowel / e /.*
     
4.  

When the letters ea and ai are followed by r*,
the vowel sound is often / e /:

bear, pear, swear, tear (V), wear;
air, chair, fair, hair, lair, pair, stair

     
5.  

The combination are* is also pronounced
with / e / in a number of common words:

bare, care, dare, fare, glare, hare, mare, pare,
rare, ware, share, spare, stare

   
6.  

Be careful!

Many words with / e / are pronounced the same,
but have different spellings and meanings--
for example,

bear / bare; bred / bread; hair / hare;
lead (Pb) / led; pair / pare / pear;
read (past) / red; stair / stare; wear / ware

 

* Vowels with r will be treated later.
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